LGen E.C. Ashton Armoury Museum: Small But Proudly Experiential

The LGen E.C. Ashton Armoury Museum is one of four small military museums in Greater Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, each with its own focus. The Canadian Scottish Regiment and the 5th (BC) Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, have museums in the Bay Street Armoury, while Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt has its Naval and Military Museum. 

Museum exterior
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee

The Ashton Armoury Museum (AAM), is the 39 Service Battalion Regimental Museum, located in the LGen E.C. Ashton Armoury, 724 Vanalman Ave, Victoria, was established in 1994 to maintain, honour and promote the history of 11 Service Battalion, now 11 Company, 39 Service Battalion. The museum also honours the history and heritage of co-located 2 Troop B Squadron 39 Signals Regiment, 11 Field Ambulance and 12 Military Police Platoon, and their Canadian Armed Forces Branches and predecessor Army Corps. The museum portrays the history of these units and their respective branches and corps that have provided the support necessary to sustain combat forces on the field of battle and during peace time operations. They are, to borrow an old expression, the tinkers, tailors, butchers and bakers of the Army.

An accredited military museum, supported by the Friends of the Ashton Armoury Society, the Department of National Defence Directorate of History and Heritage and the Province of British Columbia Community Gaming Grant Program, the AAM is staffed entirely by volunteers.

Museum tour floor plan
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee

Unlike most museums we are located in a working Army Reserve armoury, thus displays are spread throughout the building, with some of the vehicles parked outside. From a World War 1 trench dug-out to mannequins displaying uniforms from many eras to memorabilia from various peace-keeping operations, the collection gives a good overview of the work of those personnel who supported the fighting soldiers. While small in size the museum takes pride in providing visitors an experiential adventure: touch a 100-year-old WW I uniform, sit in a WWII vehicle and try on a present-day load carrying system.

In recognition of the principal resident units the museum maintains an extensive medical and transport related exhibits. The medical exhibit for example includes a collection of authentic and reproduction military nurse’s uniforms spanning the period from the Northwest Rebellion to the Afghanistan War and life size diorama depicting a WWII Regimental Aid Post (RAP).

Canadian Military Nurses 1898 - 2023
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee

The transport component is recognized with the museum’s vintage vehicle fleet which included 13 vehicles, primarily WWII, which can be seen in action around town, during parades and other events around the Capitol Region. Maintaining the fleet is undoubtedly the biggest challenge facing museum volunteers. Picture at top.

In addition to individual artifact displays, the museum features three life size dioramas:

WW1 Trench Dugout
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee
WWII Signals Intercept and Decoding Station diorama
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee
WWII Regimental Aid Post (RAP) 
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee

Not to be outdone by other local military museums, the AAM is home to a large collection of artifacts and archival materiel celebration the formation of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) in Victoria early in WWII. The Corps was created to relieve males from essential administrative and logistics task for deployment overseas. In time, the role of the Corps expanded to include may other non-combat functions both at home and overseas. On display you will see a comprehensive collection of the orders of dress (uniforms and accessories) worn by CWAC officers and other ranks.

Canadian Women’s Army Corps uniforms
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee

To say the museum somewhat eclectic collection of artifacts is without surprises would be an understatement, one of the surprises is a rare collections of sketches by renowned Canadian artist E.J. Hughes. While Hughes was best known for his land and seascapes, the museum hold 20 sketches from his brief career as a military artist during the Second World War. The sketches are what Hughes envisioned in Kiska, Alaska, the site of the Battle of Kiska. Many visitors to the museum are surprised to learn he also did military paintings, but this work is well known in Canada’s military communities. One recent visitor said they never really understood how Hughes got to his final product, so these sketches reveal how he developed his concept on canvas.

Figure : E.J. Hughes "Relief Arriving at Kiska"
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee

Another surprising feature of the museum is an outstanding unique exhibit of artifacts, including a life size Zulu warrior in full regalia, commemorating the 19th century Battle of Rork’s Drift. The connection of the AAM with Rork’s Drift is interesting to say the least. The story goes that on occupying the newly opened armoury the officers of the resident units wanted an event that which would help bond the diverse officer corps of the then 11 Service Battalion and 11 Medical Company. Low and behold Rork’s Drift was suggested as both a medical and service corps officer were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. Thus Rork’s Drift become the focus an annual Officers’ Mess Dinner until recently when it was succeeded by the Battle of Vimy Ridge which has a truly Canadian connection. The museum has now taken a major role in staging a “Field Dinner” which, while indoors, is held in a camouflaged tent and includes a large display of WWI artifacts.

Vimy Dinner exhibit
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee

Closing Thoughts

Small military museums such as the LGen E.C. Ashton Armoury Museum are key to engaging the public in Canada’s wartime history and connecting serving soldiers with what their predecessors accomplished. For civilians who have not seen military service, the exhibits show how terrible war can be and how much is owed to those who endured it. It helps remind people that the freedoms we take for granted have sometimes been bought with blood, sweat and tears.

If you’re at all interested in military history, consider stopping by for a visit! Everyone there is friendly and knowledgeable, and you’ll walk away with a deep appreciation for the administrative and logistics units represented there.

More to discover
PHOTOGRAPH BY Wayne Dauphinee

Website: https://www.ashtonarmourymuseum.com

Email: ashtonarmourymuseum@shaw.ca

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Wayne Dauphinee

Wayne Dauphinee is a retired Canadian Armed Forces Lieutenant Colonel with over 40 years experience as an executive lead in the public sector. Together with his wife Nancy they are Co-Curators of the Ashton Armoury Museum Militaria Collection. Wayne is also the founder and current Director/Curator of the Canadian Military Medical Services Virtual Museum. In 2017 Wayne founded the Greater Victoria Military Museum and Historic Site Working Group to facilitate enhance consultation, collaboration and cooperation among the member organizations where he continues to serve as Chair.